Those of us who don’t live in rural areas may think of spring and fall as the most active times of the year on a farm. With that in mind, I wondered what peanut farmers were up to this time of year. Growers and National Peanut Board members Ed White of Headland, Ala.; Laura Robbins of Portales, N.M.; and Cindy Belch of Conway, N.C. gave me insight into their lives during the winter. From enriching the soil and calving to preparing taxes and building ponds, these growers have a host of cold-weather responsibilities—with a little bit of downtime if they’re lucky.
In some parts of the country, cotton harvest is just coming to an end and Ed, Cindy and Laura, like many farmers, have also planted oats or winter wheat. They’re grown for grain production or as a cover crop to protect the land so that the soil isn’t blown away by wind or eroded by heavy rains.
One responsibility that needs year-round attention on the White’s Alabama farm is cattle. “We’ve planted all of our winter grazing. We feed cattle every day and we do our veterinary work on the cows and move them to winter grazing,” said Ed who farms with his wife Bonnie and has four adult children and several grandchildren. “This is also our calving season, which I enjoy.”
Winter also means soil tests and maintenance work on the farm. “To determine what crops to plant and seeds to use in the future, we do soil sampling and study our test plot results,” said Laura who farms with her husband Richard in New Mexico.“We also do our fertilizer application to enrich the soil during this time.”
Ed, Cindy and Laura share a similar laundry list of other winter-time tasks: “We’re working on fences, cleaning and repairing equipment, building ponds, preparing land for irrigation, taking care of landlord chores, cleaning up cotton fields, cleaning around our fields, and doing building maintenance to name a few,” said Ed. “There is always something to do and there is no time for an idle mind or idle hands.”
These farmers plan the next planting season from one to five years out. “It’s a constantly developing process,” said Laura who also has two grown daughters and a son as well as several grandchildren. “We keep track of everything we plant and keep a long three-to-five-year rotation between each planting,” said Cindy who farms with her husband Mike in North Carolina and has an adult son who lives nearby.
This helps preserve the quality and yield of the crop and the condition of the soil. “We plan far in advance, but you always have to be flexible about what you plant because there are a lot of variables like the weather or the market,” said Cindy.
Completing taxes and other paperwork that accumulated during the busier seasons might not seem exciting at first, but Cindy finds enjoyment in it. “Figuring up your yield production can be fun because you have an idea of how much you produced and get to compare it to the final numbers. ‘You never know til it’s in the barn,’ as they say.” Ed isn’t such a fan. “The farm is a big part of my life and I love it. If there is anything I don’t enjoy, it’s not the farm but the tax work that has to be done,” he said. “In most cases, we farmers would rather be ‘doing’ than planning,” said Laura.
This time of year does have its perks. “The soil gets a rest and to a great degree it gives us some time to rest,” said Laura. When he can take a break from the farm, “I enjoy deer hunting and bird hunting,” said Ed. “This is a busy time of year for agricultural meetings and conferences, which is nice when we can take time to attend,” said Cindy. With one son, two daughters and several grandchildren, “we also have more time for traveling a little and doing the things we find enjoyable outside of farming,” said Laura.